Before we get to the learning part of this blog, let’s play a game.

A couple of weeks ago, my co-worker Patrick brought in his Netflix DVD envelope that had a Mad Libs puzzle printed on it. We were both excited and played it immediately. It turns out Netflix isn’t very good at writing Mad Libs, but we really appreciated the clever content idea. So much so, in fact, that I’m stealing it! Print the Mad Libs worksheet below and fill in the blanks with a friend, or grab a pen and paper and slowly scroll through the fill-in-the-blanks below (don’t look ahead!). The story is, “A Day in the Life of a Marketing Professional.”

  • Your name:
  • A positive exclamation:
  • Hour in the morning:
  • Favorite beverage:
  • Favorite c-store snack (plural):
  • A high number:
  • A number between 10 and 100:
  • Fancy-sounding financial term:
  • Favorite marketing jargon:
  • Least favorite marketing jargon:
  • Marital status:
  • Occupation
  • Location:
  • Cheap food:
  • TV comedy:
  • A number between 15 and 99:
  • Time of day:
  • Favorite expletive:
  • Type of exercise + ing:
  • Has-been entertainer:
  • Bodily function verb:

Thinking is required
There’s a reason that everybody loves Mad Libs. They’re fun, easy, and fast and result in totally random, silly outcomes. Basically, they’re the exact opposite of what we’re trying to achieve with content marketing.

Good content requires you to think, a lot. It entails research and analytics and, most importantly, an expert knowledge of the people who will consume your content. It’s vital to understand your audiences as individual people with individual needs. What you’ll discover is that those individual needs begin to be repeated by many people, and soon you’re uncovering common challenges and shared interests that can become the foundation of your content marketing efforts. Your first content goal is simple: become the expert that makes your customers’ jobs easier and lives better.

To do that, you need to get on the phone or sit down with them. I love interviewing people. For one hour I have unlimited access to learn all about a friendly stranger (the unfriendly ones never agree to interviews). I ask all about his/her job, industry, likes/dislikes, challenges, buying habits and communication preferences. By the end, I have a genuine appreciation for and understanding of their role and how they interact with the brands I represent. And more often than not, I have a dozen new content ideas.

I’ve conducted a lot of customer interviews — hundreds, in fact. And these are my five favorite questions to ask. It doesn’t matter what industry or occupation they’re in; these questions have resulted in the best information for content marketing efforts:

  1. Tell me about your job and some of your main responsibilities.
    This is an easy question to get them talking and feeling comfortable. Their answer will give you great insight about how your product/brand fits into their day-to-day responsibilities. You may be incredibly important to them (meaning they may already be looking for content from you), or you may be nowhere on their radar (which means you have to work harder to get their attention).
  2. Think back to a recent purchase for (insert your product). What prompted the purchase? Can you walk me through the steps you took before making a final decision?
    This is the million-dollar question for most of the brands we work with. It will reveal how the person researches and learns about brands and products, who they rely on for information and advice, who influences their decision, who approves their decision, top features or qualities they look for, expectations they have, their perception of your brand and competitors, limitations they have to work within, etc.
  3. When you look at the year ahead, what are some of the bigger challenges you and your company will face?
    The easiest content ideas are those that help solve your audiences’ challenges. People go to Google to solve their problems, so make sure you offer content that will show up in the results. Really dive into their problems and get as specific as possible. If you can’t solve a problem with content, you can send it to the engineering or product development team.
  4. Where do you get your industry news and information?
    This is the one question that will vary widely for every person you interview. But that’s OK. The point is to understand all the different places they’re going for information, and then develop a plan to ensure you have a presence in those channels. Prioritize their top industry trade pubs, trade shows, associations, etc.
  5. What’s one thing (your brand) could do to make your life/job easier?
    I always end my interviews with this question. Even though I ask for just one thing, I usually hear several really interesting ideas — from product features and new technology ideas to simple website fixes and customer service tips. Sometimes the really nice people won’t have any suggestions for you. In that case, ask them for something the competition gives them that your company doesn’t.

To sum it up, Mad Libs are a great diversion from work and will sharpen your grammar skills. But don’t play Mad Libs with your content marketing. You can’t randomly fill in the blanks and hope your customers like the results. Do your research. Talk to your customers. Listen to them. Use their ideas to create meaningful content that offers real value to their jobs and helps solve their problems. That’s how you’ll build a (adjective) content marketing plan!